Triple threat of work stress, poor sleep, and high blood pressure could be deadly study finds

The study examined nearly 2,000 workers with high blood pressure, ages 25-65, without cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

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Maybe it appears suddenly, as soon as you start a new job: the schedule’s wrong for you, the commute seems off, the lighting is weird. Or maybe it creeps up gradually: one overwhelming project after the other, and the pace never slows down. Eventually, however, these work stressors will start affecting your sleep. Just part of the job? Don’t ignore it, especially if you already have high blood pressure, says a new study. Work stress and bad sleep are linked to three times higher risk of cardiovascular death in employees with hypertension.

Seventy-five million American adults have high blood pressure, according to the CDC.


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The study examined nearly 2,000 workers with high blood pressure, ages 25-65, without cardiovascular disease or diabetes. They were followed for almost 18 years. People with poor sleep and a stressful job were three times as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who slept well and didn’t have work stress. People with hypertension and only work stress were at a 1.6-fold higher risk of cardiovascular death, and those with hypertension and only poor sleep had a 1.8-times higher risk.

“Work stress” was defined by the study as a job where employees had little control over decisions but faced high pressure to deliver results.

Study author Professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig, of the German Research Centre for Environmental Health and the Medical Faculty, Technical University of Munich, said that sleep was an essential element to overall health, especially when one has other risk factors. “Sleep should be a time for recreation, unwinding, and restoring energy levels. If you have stress at work, sleep helps you recover. Unfortunately, poor sleep and job stress often go hand in hand, and when combined with hypertension the effect is even more toxic.”

Poor sleep was defined as having a difficult time falling or staying asleep, common for people in stressful jobs. “They wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go to the toilet and come back to bed ruminating about how to deal with work issues,” said Professor Ladwig.

It’s not just one bad night, or a week or bad nights, either. “It is suffering from a stressful job and poor sleep over many years, which fade energy resources and may lead to an early grave.”

But before that happens, check with your doctor. Between stress, poor sleep, and high blood pressure, “each condition is a risk factor on its own and there is cross-talk among them, meaning each on increases risk of the other,” said Professor Ladwig. He recommended exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation techniques, as well as blood pressure-lowering medication as approved by a doctor. Employers should also offer programs for stress management and sleep in the workplace, he suggested.

The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.